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Ninja Gaiden - NES - Angry Video Game Nerd - Episode 87

The Nerd: We're talkin' some real intense shit right here. We're talkin' Ninja Gaiden. Everyone always said "Ninja Gayden", but I know for a fact it's Gaiden. You know where I learned that? From The Wizard.

(a clip from "The Wizard")

Video Armageddon Sign-In Man: Ninja Gaiden! (exclaims)

The Nerd: Yeah. Back then, nobody knew how to pronounce the names. It's like in Street Fighter. We didn't know "Rai-yu" was actually Ryu. Blanka, some people say "Blank-a", but there's no way it could be that, because Blank-a sounds like blanket, man.

The Nerd: Anyway, Ninja Gaiden, to me, is one of the most memorable games of the 8-bit era. While the arcade version was a Double Dragon-style beat-'em-up, the NES version is an adrenaline-charged sidescroller. Every second counts when you're slashin' away at enemies and hoppin' platforms, and learnin' how to bounce back and forth between walls is a necessity. As an added bonus to its hot gameplay, excellent graphics and music, it was also one of the first games to have cutscenes. Common nowadays, sure, but back then, gamers hadn't seen anything like it. So epic.

The Nerd: The story follows a ninja named Ryu who travels to America to avenge his father's death. It seemed everyone always assumed that it was the same Ryu from Street Fighter, but I'm pretty sure there's no relation. To further perpetuate this alleged tie-in, they had to name Ryu's father Ken. Okay, Ryu and Ken? How could you not think Street Fighter?

The Nerd: As the story unfolds, it turns out before Ken was killed, he was working together with an archaeologist, Walter Smith. They were the safe-keepers of two demon statues that when combined, would awaken an ancient demon that had previously been defeated by SHINOBI. Yeah, Shinobi, as in the Sega franchise. This game is a whole network of ninja cross-references.

The Nerd: The sequels continued to have awesome cutscenes, and throughout the series, Ryu would always say "What the...?" "What the...?" "WHAT THE...?" What was he gonna say? "What the fuck?" Oh, and what is going on there?

(Irene Lew's head slowly falls to the level of Ryu's crotch, going off-screen)

The Nerd: It always kept you waiting to see what would happen next. Your reward for beatin' the level was that you get to see the next part of the story. Its cinematic style contained elements of anime, and film noir. Throw that together with some fast-paced, high-stake gameplay, and man... the effect was intoxicating.

The Nerd: The only problem with these games is that they're relentlessly difficult and nearly inconceivable to beat. The second game (The Dark Sword of Chaos) incorporated new stage hazards that were never seen before. There's the wind level, where the wind keeps changing direction, so you have to time your jumps accordingly. Such a pain in the ass. Then there's the ice level where you slide all around. And my most hated of all is when everything goes dark. You might as well be playing blindfolded.

The Nerd: The third game (The Ancient Ship of Doom) is the worst of all, because up until this point, they had unlimited continues. But not this one. There's nothing more frustrating than to make it really far, then have to start all the way back from the beginning.

The Nerd: I'd say this is the hardest trilogy of games on the NES, even harder than Castlevania. I'm gonna focus on the first Ninja Gaiden. It's been over 20 years, and I still can't beat this son-of-a-bitch.

The Nerd: One of the biggest problems is that if an enemy's anywhere near the edge of the screen, they will re-spawn infinitely.

(The Nerd runs out of ammunition)

The Nerd: (sarcastically) Nice. Thanks for wasting my firepower.

(The Nerd tries to hit the enemy but gets knocked back. Tries again and succeeds, but at the same gets knocked back and dies.)

The Nerd: The number one most constant issue in this game is getting knocked back. It's the same as in Castlevania. It doesn't matter where you are; no matter which angle you get hit from, it always seems you gravitate towards the nearest hole.

(Ryu get knocked back and dies)

The Nerd: You know, I've forgotten that this game has a life bar. Yeah, you can actually die if you take enough hits. But whenever you get hit, there's a deathtrap right next to you, so you're always gonna die by falling. You might as well not even have a life bar!

The Nerd: Look at this guy. How am I supposed to get past him? (grunts) Fuck! (He groans, then grunts twice) Fuck. Fuck! (Yells) FUUUUCK! This is impossible! How am I supposed to beat this?!

(He throws the controller on the ground and sits at his computer chair. Then he sees a "Ninja Gaiden" poster behind his computer. He stares at it as the screen fades to black. In the next scene, a ninja is shown meditating near a Japanese-style temple while the "Killer Instinct 2" training theme plays. The Nerd visits him.)

The Nerd: Please, teach me how to beat... Ninja Gaiden.

Ninja: Ninja Gaiden? I haven't heard that name... in ages.

The Nerd: Really?

Ninja: Normally they say, Ninja... Gayden.

The Nerd: Does that mean I'm worthy?

Ninja: (laughs) Playing Ninja Gaiden is a secret of art. Only the most determined players can defeat it. (exclaims) You must be quick! You must be strategic! Can you learn that, my boy?

The Nerd: I've wanted to beat that game all my life.

Ninja: You realize, before you can beat the game, the game must beat you.

The Nerd: And it has. For the past 20 years, it's kicked my ass. I love the game. I want to complete that love, by finishing it.

Ninja: Very well.

(The Nerd returns home with the ninja. He is playing "Ninja Gaiden" while the ninja watches him. He gets frustrated after losing again)

The Nerd: Fuck!

Ninja: Sloppy! Is the game controlling you? Or are you... controlling... the game?

The Nerd: (groans) I keep gettin' stuck on the walls!

Ninja: Ninja... must be master... of his... environment.

The Nerd: Now what the fuck was that?! Oh, come on, how was I supposed to know a bat was coming? 

Ninja: A ninja... must look... beyond the borders... of the screen.

The Nerd: Got him. Oh, there's another bat!

Ninja: (chortles) Try again! Practice! Unlimited continues means no Game Over. Game is only over when you make it over!

The Nerd: What am I supposed to do?! The bats keep coming!

Ninja: You must move! How is one to advance, if you waste all your energy on one enemy?

The Nerd: (grunts) Your mother!

Ninja: You must not act too quick, or too late. Perceive the victory in your head, and your perceived future will be your present.

The Nerd: (ecstatically) Yeah!

Ninja: Good.

The Nerd: No! I jumped a bat, got killed by a cat! That's the way this whole game is. It's just an endless cycle of things that kill you, like a checkmate.

Ninja: (moans) Nerd, checkmate does not exist... unless you make it exist! Think between the spaces, Nerd. If you set a course for the moon and merely follow the stars... then you will miss that which you have set forth. Hmm? Hmm?

(The Nerd looks at the ninja, confused, and continues playing "Ninja Gaiden.")

The Nerd: Look at all this shit! There's a million flying enemies! And they all respawn quicker than I can attack!

(Ninja pulls the controller from the Nerd's hands)

Ninja: You're playing with anger! Anger does not exist. Pain... does not exist. Defeat... does not exist!

(Ninja gives him back the controller. The Nerd hits the buttons in anger and dies again.)

The Nerd: (groans)

Ninja: Before you leap, you must look.

(The Nerd dies again)

The Nerd: I looked, I looked!

Ninja: Before you look, you must think.

(The Nerd dies again and looks at the ninja in anger)

Ninja: Before you think, you must feel!

(The Nerd dies again)

The Nerd: (yells)

Ninja: Before you feel, you must--

The Nerd: I've had enough!

(The Nerd storms off and the ninja goes to the Nerd to help him.)

Ninja: Come. Show me your thumbs.

The Nerd: What?

Ninja: Your thumbs!

The Nerd: My thumbs?

Ninja: Like this!

(The ninja moves his thumbs up and down very quickly)

The Nerd: What?

Ninja: Try it.

(The Nerd tries to do the same, but isn't as fast as the ninja. The ninja grabs the Nerd's hands.)

Ninja: Faster!

(Keeps trying to go faster, but fails.)

Ninja: You are slow as sloth taking shit! Come, we will develop speed!

(The ninja pulls a Q-tip from behind his head.)

Ninja: Q-tip. When I drop Q-tip, you catch with thumb!

(The ninja shouts a kiai and drops the Q-tip, but the Nerd isn't fast enough to catch it.)

Ninja: Too slow. Again! (softly) Hai.

(the Nerd tries but fails again)

The Nerd: (groans)

Ninja: Again.

(He moves the Q-tip up and down before dropping it, muttering fake Japanese, and the Nerd once again fails. The ninja slaps him.)

Ninja: Very, very slow!

(The ninja shouts a kiai and the Nerd fails once again.)

Ninja: Too slow! One more time! (slaps the Nerd again.) Focus! Ready? (grunts)

(The Nerd fails yet again.)

Ninja: I teach you not to fail! (exclaims)

(The Ninja turns on a fan)

Ninja: We learn rhythm! Speed is rhythm. Rhythm is life.

(He puts his thumbs between the fan blades without getting hurt, matching its speed perfectly.)

Ninja: (Exclaiming in fake Japanese) See?

The Nerd: This is impossible! How is a human being supposed to be faster than a machine?

(Ninja slaps the Nerd)

Ninja: Game machine! Machine predictable! You, not!

The Nerd: What?

Ninja: No chop-a off-a!

(The Nerd tries to do what the ninja did, but hits his thumbs on the fan blades.)

The Nerd: (groans)

(The Nerd hits his thumbs on the fan again)

The Nerd: (Grunts angrily) This is bullshit!

(He storms off.)

Ninja: (moans in disappointment)

(The Nerd pulls "Ninja Gaiden" out of his NES and then throws it. However, accompanied by the "Ninja Gaiden" boss battle music, the ninja catches it, surprising the Nerd. The ninja throws the cartridge back into the NES, and starts playing. The ninja is shown to have great skill at playing the game, clearing the levels effortlessly.)

The Nerd: (in shock and disbelief) That's unbelievable!

Ninja: With that attitude, you'll never succeed!

(A montage of the Nerd practicing various things with the ninja, accompanied by the "Ninja Gaiden" Stage 4-2, end credits music. First, the Nerd tries playing the game. Then, he re-attempts the fan trick, failing again. The Nerd appears to be getting better at the game. Next he tries the Q-tip trick again, but also fails. He plays some more, once again getting better. Then the ninja and Nerd appear in a "Ninja Gaiden" backdrop, practicing what appears to be martial arts. Next they play thumb wrestling on a Power Pad, and the ninja wins. They do the Q-tip move one more time, and this time the Nerd succeeds. He also succeeds at the fan technique. He plays the game more, and then he practices his martial arts again. Next, they do thumb exercises involving the NES controllers, and finally, thumb push-ups on the Power Pad.)

The Nerd: (excitedly) Final boss, final boss!

Ninja: You have three final bosses.

The Nerd: The first boss isn't too hard, once you know how it's done. But the second boss is a nightmare. His fireballs never miss; they follow you everywhere you go.

(He dies and gets a Game Over, and restarts at the beginning of Stage 6-1. He pauses the game.)

The Nerd: (angrily) Are you fucking kidding me? I'm all the way back at Stage 6-1?! That's fuckin' horseshit! You die on the boss, you go all the way back?!

Ninja: You die, you go back. You must learn... discipline!

The Nerd: But how am I supposed to practice on the boss? As soon as I start to learn the pattern, I die and I have to go through the last stages all over again. The hardest section of the whole game is this part right here! (A section from stage 6-2 is shown)

The Nerd: It would be so much easier if I had a throwing item like a Ninja Star, but this game is very stingy with its special weapons. The ammunition is scarce, and whenever you die, you reset to nothing. Even if you do manage to get to this part with a weapon, it doesn't help much.

The Nerd: And once you die, you can't go back and restock. This section contains no weapons, so all you have is your sword. The only way to get past this motherfucker, is to trigger a glitch making him disappear. But that only happens if you're really lucky.

The Nerd: Then you'll get another shot at the boss, but they don't even have the fucking courtesy to refill your life bar! THAT is sadistic! Whoever programmed this thing, I wanna rip their fucking heart out of their ass and show it to them so they can see how cold and black it is before they die!

The Nerd: There's no stage select code, and no helpful Game Genie code either. (a set of "Ninja Gaiden" Game Genie codes appears for several seconds) Infinite lives? Yay. Isn't that what you have already? How 'bout put me back at the boss so I can get another try? At least it lets you skip all the bosses that you've beaten, but it makes me sick to think that there's still one more boss I haven't made it to!

(He dies and gets a Game Over, and restarts at the beginning of Stage 6-1. He pauses the game.)

The Nerd: I give up.

Ninja: You must not give up! No Game Over!

The Nerd: (disagreeing) Game's over now! You try. (the Nerd gives the ninja the controller, and so he tries now. However, despite his skill, he too finds himself taking many hits.)

Ninja: Fuck! Nunchuck fuck! (gets Game Over) BALLS!

(Throws the controller up and recoils after dying on Jaquio, slowly falling sideways.)

The Nerd: Y'know, the whole fucking trilogy's impossible. The first game sends you back, the second has the stage hazards and the third one has Game Overs. So it's like pick your poison. Well, I got my poison right here.

(Both the Nerd and the ninja drink a bottle of Rolling Rock, then the credits start while the song plays the "Ninja Gaiden" prologue theme.)